If there is one place I’ve ever been that truly feels like a winter wonderland, it’s Finnish Lapland.
I am not kidding, no exaggeration, it *actually* feels like you are at the North Pole. You can even visit Santa in his village in Rovaniemi, which I totally did because I love all things Christmas, but to be honest, felt a bit weird since I visited in March on my own with no friends. Kinda like doing karaoke alone. Not right.
I love animals and I love being out in the forest in winter in the Arctic has always been the stuff of fairytales and children’s storybooks for me, so I was beyond stoked that let this fantasy come true. And the real life version was just as special!
Stretching across northern Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia is the cultural region of Lapland, an area inhabited by the native Sámi people. While in Finland itself, there is its own region of Lapland, taking up more than 30 percent of the country with only three percent of the population.
It is a vast, open and empty place, the stuff of legends and stories, obviously I was drawn there.
Lapland for me is like a peaceful wilderness, open skies, and a place of solitude and quiet, something I always value on my travels.
It was a still white day, not too cold and snowing on and off when I made my way out to the Jaakkola Reindeer Farm near Luosto in Finland.
An ancient Sámi way of travel, going for a reindeer sled ride is something you must do if you visit Lapland in winter. Reindeer are basically an icon in Lapland, and it’s a great way to interact with them that’s not trying them on the menu (I kid, I kid – NOT – reindeer is delicious).
Nowadays reindeer in Finland are free range, wandering in the wild until they are herded up twice a year. There are more than 1000 types of notches to mark their ears because each one belongs to someone.
But don’t ask a Sámi reindeer farmer how many reindeer they own – as it turns out that’s quite a personal question akin to asking a stranger how much money they earn. You live and learn.
A traditional part of the Sámi life in the far north of the world, many things have remained unchanged over the years, except now they can nerd and work with snowmobiles.
It was early afternoon when I arrived at the Jaakkola farm and met the family. Jani and Anu have lived here and run it for their whole lives, helping share their traditional Sámi culture with visitors and keep reindeer farming alive and strong.
After meeting some of the reindeer, I piled into the back of one of the sleds and snuggled into the hides and blankets as soft fat snowflakes began to fall. The local farm dog promptly climbed into my lap making the fairytale complete.
Totally peaceful and serene, we glided along the new snow through the forest in utter silence, with only the sound of reindeer bells twinkling. Magical.
As the snow softly landed on my blankets, with my camera tucked away after the first 10 minutes, I felt like I finally had the time to literally sit back and enjoy Lapland.
Passing through the forests in the snow felt like something from a book, not something in real life. I love the feeling of this and I hope I can recreate more often on my travels. The feeling of your imaginings and dreams coming true. It is possible.
After our ride I was lucky enough to visit some of the baby reindeer nearby in their pens. Holy crap can you say cute?
Normal humans like us can visit the farm for all sorts of tours and activities, sit around the warm fire in the traditional Lappish Kota (hut) and learn some stories. And if you’re super lucky, Anu, who might be my favorite person I met in Finland, might “joik” for you.
A form of Sámi cultural expression, joiking is a powerful, transformative, emotional type of song that’s not really a song, often without words, an expression of the spirit. You joik literally to express something or someone or a feeling, not about someone. Does that make sense? Here’s a powerful example.
As I cupped my warm tea and listened to Anu joik for me by the fire after our sleigh ride, I felt overcome with emotions for this part of the world, and wanting to do everything I could to help keep this place special. No doubt about it, Lapland touched my soul.
Have you ever seen reindeer in real life? Has a place ever affected you this way? Would you like to go on a sleigh ride in Lapland or heard of joiking?